Leareth and Karal work together
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Karal doesn't think they need to be particularly reassuring thoughts!  If they succeed in making Karal remember that Leareth exists, that'll be reassuring enough on its own, and he can probably put himself together from there.  Yes, telling him what's happening or what might happen next or what the important tactical considerations are seems likely to be helpful and low-effort, but he really thinks most things would do.

... Of course Leareth can order him to do things without advance permission, how could that possibly not be the case...  Ah, they still have an unfinished larger conversation about oaths.  Hopefully that will help, because that was such a deeply confusing statement Karal barely knows where to start.

Leareth's thoughts are very likely to be helpful - he remembers noticing them last time, even faint as they were.  If the thoughts or an ongoing conversation are related to whatever went wrong in the first place...  He's not sure, really, so probably Leareth should do whatever seems best to him and if that doesn't go well he can do the other thing next time.


...Leareth doesn't think that Karal has a problem in general with being unexpectedly ordered to do something, he does feel like they've been over that, it's just - without thinking it through, he genuinely wouldn't have predicted that it would either help or work? For himself, the ability to orient to his environment and what's happening around him feels a lot more basic and fundamental than the ability to usefully follow instructions, and "be quiet" (he assumes Karal means mentally quiet, since Leareth can just prevent him from literally making noise) seems like a particularly hard instruction for someone to follow while already very upset and disoriented. It sounds like Karal maybe expects something different, though? 


(Ah, good, that makes more sense. It was Leareth thinking of it in terms of permission that confused him.)

Yes, for Karal loyalty is more basic than orientation (in something like the way for Leareth safety is, he thinks) - he will follow orders in the right voice if he's too asleep or feverish to know what's happening around him, he knows that.  (A flash of half-embarrassed half-pleased memory, when he caught a bad winter sickness and ended up trying to fight the healers so much that Balthin had to come himself to tell him to be still... He remembered nothing of it except his voice, once his fever broke.)  He isn't sure it'll work in the panicked disorientation, but he won't be surprised if it will, and if it works it'll almost certainly help.  Give his mind a connection, to follow back to reality and find its balance against.

Being quiet is probably not the easiest task, but it's the easiest he can think of that's still possible to do without control of his body and without knowing where he is.  If Leareth can think of other orders like that, he can try them - again, this isn't something that could make anything worse, he doesn't think.


That makes sense. Leareth can definitely see how it's a convenient basic reflex to have, arguably a lot more convenient than his own reflex of "Gate to a place he knows is safe." He'll make a mental note to try it. 


It's such a strange and interesting state, being this close with someone while still only half knowing them.  Karal is sure there are more surprising things about both of them that will come up at some point - half of him would rather skip to the comfort of full familiarity, but half of him appreciates needing all this explicit thinking about each other and noticing disconnects.  It seems like he needs the practice.

That seems enough to be going on with, for that.  Unless Leareth had more thoughts about circumstances under which he should or should not be careful with Karal?

Otherwise, they should go back to the original question - what oaths he should make to clarify and anchor his commitment.  And what oaths Leareth should make, if he wishes to, but that still feels difficult to think about.

It seems so far that Karal should swear... loyalty and service to Leareth's goal of fixing the world, as the most central thing, but he thinks it will be better if he does it through service to Leareth-as-he-is-now - it'll have a much better hold on his mind, make him stronger and more able to do what he needs to, if there's a person in his oath somewhere. 

What else might be worth saying?  Leareth wants not to damage him, so he should swear at least to tell him when that might happen - or not to let it happen unless they both agree it's worth it? - something in that direction.  And Leareth wants not to wrong him, which seems more complicated - Karal doesn't think he can generate a full description of what that would mean, but he can commit to saying so when something makes him likely to regret his oath.  (That will be important to say out loud and remember, because on his own he probably wouldn't think about it - it feels like another one of the things that are fundamentally not his place to decide.  But they just declared there are no such things, and in any case Leareth can't rely on a shared upbringing to know how to avoid it.)

He can't generate a full description, but he can gesture at at least a large part of it.  Torturing someone for no reason would be awful and he agrees Leareth shouldn't do it (and in any case wouldn't, basically by definition, because Leareth doesn't do things for no reason), but it wouldn't... feel like a fundamental misuse of who Karal is.  Making him break his word would, or making him pretend at... not necessarily friendliness even, but honest cooperation... and then go against it, or take someone else's genuine attempt to do something better and use it against their interests.  It's all right to duel a man and kill him; it's not necessarily all right but not the awful kind of wrong to ambush and murder him on the road, or to steal into his house as an assassin, or to disguise yourself as an invited guest and use the opportunity to poison him; it's wrong to accept an offered invitation in your own name and then poison him.  Does Leareth know what Karal means, when he gestures at everything else that's a mirror of that difference?  It feels like there's a clear common thread between all these things, but he doesn't know the word for it.

(Karal gets the impression that Leareth draws his own line somewhere close to that, in any case.  This is part of what his early arguments with Vanyel were about - whether you can murder innocent people and still be trusted not to do other worse things, whether there are any meaningful lines past what Valdemar's Heralds would call dishonorable.)

And he would like to not be used against - not his country, that will hurt but his country is an awful place in an untenable situation right now, and in any case given what they're planning on doing to Valdemar he cannot in good conscience demand an exception - but against Balthin, who let him go in the trust that it was right and safe, and should not be made to regret that trust.  (He would like not just not to personally be used against him, but to know that nobody else will be - but that seems too much to ask.  Is it?  He feels lost, trying to think about it, and his instinct is to see what Leareth thinks and trust that he's right.)


It continues to be bizarre and fascinating to Leareth that, to Karal, swearing service to the person that Leareth is now feels more specific and concrete and real than aiming directly at the things Leareth cares about. It's not like that for Leareth at all. It's - starting to make sense to him, though, and he's comfortable with Karal swearing that kind of loyalty to him. 

He definitely wants Karal to tell him if something Leareth is doing or planning is likely to make him regret that loyalty, and if committing to that will make Karal more likely to notice it at all, then yes, he would feel more secure with that commitment. 

Leareth thinks...well, he's not sure he thinks about it as "drawing lines" at all, as opposed to tradeoffs and costs that are or aren't worth paying, but he thinks he sees what Karal is gesturing at. Hurting one's acknowledged enemies is a cost. Harming innocent people, or using deceptive tactics to hurt people who had no reason to see an attack coming, are different costs, and in many ways worse - Leareth understands why the Heralds would draw a line and call that dishonorable but be fine with killing enemy soldiers - but they are, in fact, costs that Leareth is frequently willing to pay. And he does think there's quite a big difference between that and plans that how to put it - that use friendliness and earnest cooperation against someone, that weaken the entire concept of friendship and alliance. Honest cooperation is precious, and the odds are already stacked against it, and - Leareth isn't sure he would never choose to pay that cost, but he certainly has a strong heuristic that it's almost never going to be worth it. 

He...feels nervous about making a hard commitment never to use Karal to work against Balthin. Mostly because his deeply-engrained paranoia is generating the thought that, if this showed up to the gods in Foresight, it would make it very tempting for Them to steer Balthin into doing something destructive to Leareth's plans. He doesn't think that's likely, it would require such a string of implausible coincidences to set up, and almost certainly it would be possible to deal with the threat in some way that didn't bring Karal into it? But. Leareth still feels afraid to commit to more than "weighing the cost of betraying Karal in that way as very, very high." 


Karal closes his eyes, a drawn-out moment's pain, then bows his head.  I don't mean to make demands of you.  He would've served him with no assurances at all, if Leareth didn't want their commitment to be mutual, so he's not going to push for something Leareth is worried about.  Karal doesn't really understand the idea of an oath that isn't a hard line, but if Leareth can count costs that way and have it mean something, that will be enough. 

And... it may be right, that a full commitment would turn out worse for Balthin, by tempting the gods to misuse him. What an awful tangle the world is... Karal doesn't know how to think about things that way - he'll have to learn, but not all at once, and he trusts Leareth's decisions where he cannot think through them himself. He will trust this one, too.

(He does wonder if Leareth would betray Vanyel, if he judged the cost worth it.  Or perhaps the right question is what cost it would have to be.  He already knows there are higher costs in the world than he would have ever imagined - he still thinks there are things he would not do for any of them, but he will need to think about all his lines much more carefully than he's done before.)


...Leareth has been very, very careful about the intentions he's expressed to Vanyel, and especially about the (very few) commitments he's made. The default path here is still one where they are enemies. Leareth very much doesn't want that to mean that he ends up having to kill Vanyel, but he doesn't think either of them would see that as a betrayal, exactly. He's not sure if there's anything Vanyel would consider definitely a betrayal; he's pretty sure Vanyel is still holding onto the possibility that Leareth has been lying to him about his goals in every conversation they've had. 



It would hurt, if he ends up killing Vanyel in order to proceed with his plans. It would be another item to add to the list of things that will never be all right, even if someday they win and everything else can be repaired. Leareth...doesn't think Vanyel knows that, but it's not like knowing it would necessarily give him more accurate predictions, since Leareth is in fact willing to pay costs that can't be recouped later no matter how well his plans succeed. 


That he would kill him, Karal knows well enough.  (And something of how much it would hurt, although not nearly all of it, he suspects.)  He meant... Not whether Leareth would break one of the commitments he has in fact made - he assumes not, or else what would a commitment mean? Unless this is another confusing thing he'll need explained to him - but whether he would lie to him, maybe, or some similar thing that would feel like a betrayal rather than simple enmity.

He doesn't think Vanyel considering it a betrayal is the important distinction - if you're trying to convince someone to trust you, then you're bound to act trustworthy even if you haven't yet succeeded.


... He is sorry, for asking those questions. But if he's supposed to learn how to weigh such costs himself, he needs something to learn from.


Right - there are definitely things that Leareth would consider a betrayal of what he's been trying to do with Vanyel, and lying to him while representing himself as still wanting to cooperate would count.

There are definitely situations where Leareth would tell Vanyel that he had concluded cooperation was probably not going to work, and if he had done that, it wouldn't feel like a further betrayal to, for example, give a false answer to a direct question, in cases where just being evasive or refusing to answer would give too much away. (That doesn't necessarily mean he would also actively try to persuade Vanyel of a false story, which - Leareth isn't sure if he thinks that's worse, or just less likely to come up as the only option he can afford.) 

There...might also be situations where he would actively betray the trust he's been trying to build, without signposting it first. It's not a line he would never cross. It's not even quite in the category of "things that will never be fixed", but...in a different sense, it feels bigger than killing Vanyel. Leareth thinks that changing his approach in that way would require realizing he had been wrong about something critical, and making an update significant enough to re-evaluate a higher-level strategy he's been following for centuries. 

Which might happen! He's been enormously wrong about things before! But it would be surprising, in a way that the prospect of killing Vanyel, at the end of whatever road this is that they're on together, wouldn't be, just sad. 


Karal can hope killing Vanyel will not be necessary, though it's not a very likely hope.  It feels odd, hoping that and knowing who he is and what he's done, but - especially now that they've met, it's painfully clear that nothing would be better just because he was dead.  No justice, no relief, just a waste of another good person who could've been an ally if the world weren't such an awful tangle.  Another good person who maybe, somewhere very different, could've been happy.


But they have to live in the world as it is, and weigh the costs. 

Their intuitions match pretty well on the immediate level - Karal agrees that telling Vanyel they're plain enemies now would make lying no longer a betrayal.  The other level, where you realize you've been enormously wrong about something important and have to rethink everything you're doing... Halfway through thinking he's never done it he catches himself in the realization that obviously he's been doing exactly that all week - but not in a deliberate way like Leareth clearly can.

Well.  He will learn, to the extent he can, and he definitely doesn't need to do most of that now.

It's - a little like falling, again - to swear his loyalty and service while knowing there's so much more he still needs to understand about how to think about the world, but-- that's how it's always going to be, isn't it.  Leareth doesn't know everything either, and that doesn't mean he can wait for full understanding before making decisions.  Karal knows the things he needs to know, and - nearly the entire reason he's rethinking so much is that Leareth asked it of him, so he should ground that before he gets even further ahead of his properly made commitment.

Should he make his oath, or are there more considerations left?  (He does need to speak it in words rather than just think about it, for it to feel like it fully counts.)


Leareth isn't thinking of any obvious other considerations that they should go into right now? It seems probable that more things will come up where Karal will want to rethink something, or where they'll need to spend some time checking if they're sufficiently on the same page, but it doesn't seem, from Leareth's perspective, like there's anything that hasn't come up so far that would drastically change Karal's feelings on whether cooperating with Leareth is a good idea. And however strange it is to Leareth, it does seem like having made his oath will be helpful for Karal in navigating all of this? 


It will be.  And yes, he will not change his mind about the core of this, and nothing is stopping them from rethinking something later as long as they agree on it (and he will be very surprised if Leareth is ever against that).



He still feels something of an urge to apologize about how... himself... he's going to be about this, when Leareth clearly doesn't find the same things meaningful, but... it really will help, when things get hard to bear, to have this moment to remember, and to have done it right.

He kneels, no matter that it's a little ridiculous when physically he's in a room by himself.  Feels wrong with his eyes open, wrong with them closed too - oh, he knows what to do to make this part right - he reaches for Empathy and does the odd looking-inward motion that lets him see Leareth's mind, focuses on the deep calm purposefulness of it.

The words, too, he'll have to change - he cannot swear by the gods, so he has to find something else that feels as close as he can come to the truth.  The rest cannot be the usual form either, and he's not sure any of his choices are quite right - but the words are an anchor, not a contract: he knows what he means, and Leareth knows what he means, and that's what he will be held to.

"On my soul and honor and by all the light in the world, I swear my loyalty and my life's service to you - and by your will, to your goal of fixing the wrongness in the world, even over your person, should I ever need to choose between them. I swear not to let you wrong or damage me unknowingly. I swear not just to serve, but to make my own decisions about the way to make the world right - as far as I can, and no further." 

The standard ending is "until the gates of death", but that doesn't seem right, with Leareth being what he is, and with all the things Karal still doesn't know about souls.  So he simply leaves it off, and lets the oath have no endpoint except that it will last as long as it needs to.



... He's not sure what the right way to finish this is.  Some words of acceptance, which cannot be the usual ones either, and some gesture of acknowledgment, but Leareth has no hands to put around his.  He lets go of the voice, and holds the body lightly, to let Leareth take what control he needs to do whatever might feel right to him.


"I accept your oath," Leareth says out loud in their voice, because he's sure that that feels right, and - 



- he needs to think about it for thirty seconds or so, actually, and (with a faint note of apology) to do that where Karal can't see it. He pulls his surface thoughts away, and mostly Karal will pick up on a sense that Leareth is holding himself very still, though he's not actually reaching for any more control of their body. 


...It still feels right, after thirty seconds of deliberation, for this to be something that changes both of them in an enduring way, even if from another angle it's not changing anything at all. 

Leareth shifts all of his thoughts back to where Karal can see, and reaches into the part of himself that he doesn't, actually, directly turn his attention to that often. The memory-of-a-memory of a tower and stars, and the promise he made - to the world, to the future, to himself - 


And the memory of this moment can live alongside that. Leareth mostly isn't focused on the exact wording of Karal's oath; he knows what Karal means, and that's what he wants to set down in the place where he remembers Urtho's Tower. That no matter what else happens, Karal will always be someone who, however unwillingly he was dragged into Leareth's life and plans, saw all of it and chose to be allies. 

Fixing it fully in place, making this moment enough a part of himself for it to be one of the few clear episodic memories he carries between lives, is going to take a while. Leareth will do all of it where Karal can watch.


The spoken acceptance is enough for Karal, and the calm of full commitment spreads over his mind, settling his thoughts into the new shape, giving them a proper foundation to grow from.  He doesn't and very nearly couldn't mind Leareth taking some time to think through something on his own, just now.


And then, Oh...




In the first moment he cannot breathe. 

It feels like there isn't enough of him to really process this, to have emotions about it that aren't too much to contain--


(He doesn't lose hold of the Empathy, because paying attention to Leareth is something he can do entirely on instinct, and so much more so now than before.)


It's a good thing that the process takes a while, so he can get to the point of having a coherent reaction that isn't too overwhelming to be felt. 

So that he can comprehend it, and remember it, and feel-- not just awed, though this is surely as close to being immortal as anyone besides Leareth has ever been, and not just honored, although it is with no doubt the greatest honor of his life, but-- confirmed in every choice he made.  If it led to this then no matter what else happens, his life's service will have been worth it. 

That Leareth will stop feeling so awfully alone, not just now, but forever...  That Karal's existence and loyalty were important enough that Leareth thinks he should change the way he sees the world, should make himself remember that this is something that can happen...  He would have never in the world expected to make this much difference, and he has no words to describe how much it matters to him.


He has no words the whole time it happens, and still has no words once it's done - but Leareth can see him anyway, and his mind is filled with light.

There's a new strength to his thoughts - some of it from the oath, everything centered and grounded and aligned with itself, and some of it from this, as if the connection to Leareth's enduring core lent Karal some of the same stability.


I am so glad I met you.


Yeah. It - feels like an important update. Leareth's entire life experience has trained him to prepare for the worst, but there's definitely such thing as being too paranoid, or - paranoid in the wrong directions, maybe, thoughtlessly closing off options that would actually be more than worth the risk because habit makes him assume it never works. Leareth tries not to make any major decisions thoughtlessly or on reflex or habit, of course, and he thinks he succeeds more often than most people can expect to, but - not all decisions feel like decisions in the moment. 

(On an instinctive level, Leareth definitely feels like he can't take for granted that this will last - that he should, has to, assume there's still a godplot here, and maybe the gods will drop the ceiling on their head as soon as they're asleep and that will be the end of that. But he's fairly sure this is just his emotions being ridiculous - it would be actually deeply surprising if the gods could arrange anything like that, here, in the north! and besides he could usually Gate out fast enough even woken from a sound sleep - and, anyway, part of the point is that whatever happens tomorrow, he doesn't think it makes this less - a real thing that actually happened.) 


...Also it's late and Leareth at least is pretty exhausted. Now might be a reasonable time to sleep? 


Very much a real thing that happened.

It might take Karal a while to fall asleep, after that, but trying still seems like the thing to do.  (It does not actually take long, once he remembers that Leareth can't sleep until he does.)  He sleeps better than he has at any point in the past month, or possibly year.


What does Leareth want to do in the morning?


Leareth also sleeps well, and wakes up feeling a lot more - solidly anchored - than he would usually expect to be possible this few days after dying and coming back. 

He wants to look over more of the notes on Vanyel conversations. But maybe they can save that for last? Some exercise would also be good - maybe a walk out in the tundra? - and practicing magic. Also there's a note at the door from one of the researchers that they want to run some of their recent progress on checking god-alignment-math by him, so Leareth should block that in at some point. 


Leareth wanted to practice magic before going outside the base, right?  Which seems very reasonable, and Karal would enjoy both of those things.  They could do math first and have a things-Karal-will-enjoy break in the middle of the day, maybe, and then notes?

(Or Leareth could just do whatever he likes and do less worrying about Karal, but he knows that, so presumably if he's asking it's because it's a very low cost.)


That sounds like a very reasonable ordering! Breakfast first, though Leareth wants to keep it to less than fifteen minutes in the dining hall, and he'll send a note to schedule a meeting time with the researcher in question for late morning, and spend the time until then reviewing notes to make sure he actually remembers enough of the context to give sensible responses. 


The technical detail is going to be hard for Karal to follow even with Leareth leaving his thoughts fully open - he's not trying to slow down for Karal's sake, or unpack all the concepts that flash by very quickly - but it's quickly clear, and then even more obvious during the actual meeting, that this is one part of his work Leareth actually, deeply, intrinsically enjoys. 


Most of it makes no sense to Karal and quite probably never will, and trying to change that wouldn't be a good use of time at all.

But he expected to find the incomprehensibility unpleasant, and that turns out to be impossible when Leareth is enjoying it so much.  Karal is happy to fade into the background and watch, and expects he'd be happy to do it for much longer, if it's usually like this.


Well. Sometimes it's frustrating, if the thing he's dealing with is "someone is stuck on a problem and it's not obvious to him either how to proceed", though - even then Leareth mostly finds this kind of work energizing rather than draining, in the same way that he imagines Karal might find combat training energizing even if he's struggling to master a particularly difficult maneuver. 


Leareth gets up to speed, corrects some possible issues he spots with the work, suggests some next directions, and then excuses himself for lunch, where he's mostly happy to let Karal take the lead on having conversations but does want to interrupt and take over a few times when specific people approach him wanting to schedule meetings (one logistical and related to the military facilities' supply situation, one related to a potential research mage recruit who one of his agents was feeling out in Rethwellan, one about the feasibility of developing a particular magical technique - that one Leareth thinks he could normally answer off the top of his head, but he's not sure right now and wants to set aside dedicated time for it.) Anyway, all of them can have meetings tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow for the magical development question, which isn't very urgent. 

After lunch: time to go throw some defensive magic around in a Work Room (if Karal has no objections, which Leareth does float explicitly as a thought, though also with the note that he's likely to stop explicitly checking soon if Karal seems fine with his schedule and also thinks he would notice and flag if he wasn't fine with it.) Leareth might invite one of the combat mages to spar with him for the second half of it, but wants to just test himself solo first. He expects this to be fairly enjoyable, though perhaps a little bit frustrating or disorienting if it turns out some skills are less accessible than he's used to.

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